You think your child's on track to start kindergarten, but some of your friends are choosing to hold their kids back a year. Now you're wondering if that might be a smart move for your child, too. It's difficult to know, and opinions vary.
Published: June 30, 2020
By: Rachael Moshman
Holding a child back a year is a controversial topic among parents who have kindergarten-age kids. “Who can blame parents for wanting to delay sending their child to school so they have more time for social, emotional, cognitive and physical development?” says Jeff A. Johnson, an early childhood expert and a co-author of “Let Them Play: An Early Learning (Un)Curriculum.”
However, is this the right move for your child?
Common Reasons Why Parents Choose to Hold Back:
- To Allow the Child Time to Mature Emotionally
“Sometimes, especially in children with summer birthdays, there is a clear need to have more time to develop skills of self-regulation and emotional processing before beginning structured academics,” says Colleen Payne, a certified teacher with 20 years of experience and director at Houston’s Country Day Montessori School.
- To Delay Test Pressure
“High-stakes, high-pressure testing has drastically changed the kindergarten landscape over the last two decades,” Johnson explains. He says many kindergarten teachers are now expected to teach content that wasn’t presented until first or second grade a decade ago. “Kindergarten is increasingly test prep-oriented, with expectations that require more maturity than in the past. Kindergarten today is not all social skills and eating paste,” Payne adds.
- To Provide the Child with an Advantage
Although the practice is controversial, some parents delay kindergarten entrance with the hope that their child will be smarter, stronger and faster by being older than his classmates. But this plan can backfire. One study in the Economics of Education Review shows that kids who were held back outperformed peers in their early school years and then, by eighth grade, were performing on the same level as their younger school peers, indicating a negation of any early advantage.
Parents Weigh In
Holding back provides the expected results for many parents. “I waited with my son (who has a late-September birthday). I’m glad I did it. He started kindergarten confident, smart, athletic and social in a way he just wasn’t the year before,” says Kerrie Hinch of Michigan.
Another mom, Lindsay Crapo of Idaho, says holding off a year on kindergarten gave her kids extra time to reach the milestones they needed to be successful. Her children have a variety of special needs and waiting was right for each child for different reasons.
On the other hand, Richelle Healy of Colorado says she felt some pressure to wait a year because of her daughter’s birth date, but she is glad she didn’t. Her daughter was gifted and typically ahead of her classmates academically, she says, so delaying that a year would have made the gap even greater.
What Do Teachers Think?
Holding children back presents challenges for teachers, says Dana Vala of Sunrise Preschools. They are then starting the year with a range of kindergartners – some of whom are still 4 years old while others have already turned 6. This presents a wide developmental age range for teachers to accommodate.
Elementary school teacher Andrea Judisch agrees. “A child with an August birthday often isn’t on the same developmental level as a student with a January birthday when they are both starting school in September.” When kindergarten has been pushed back a full year for some students, it creates even more challenges for teachers to meet the needs of each student.
Many teachers admit that the older students do seem to perform better than the younger ones in the class. “My experience as a teacher in both early childhood and lower elementary grades shouts that if you can wait, you should. It is usually the younger kids in the class who are struggling,” says Sharon Canaday of Tennessee.
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, freelance writer and blogger. She has worked in early childhood education for decades. Find her at www.ramblingrach.com.